The importance of education and financial independence was deeply ingrained in Taslima Ferdous though she was married off at a young age in 1977. She was studying in class eight at the time.
With the new relationship came new responsibilities, but she took every opportunity that came her way to study. She eventually graduated in 1988.
While taking care of the needs of her in-laws and other family members at a village in Naogaon, she took notice of the plight of mothers who could not feed their children enough because of poverty.
Taslima thought hard about how the poor village women could become economically solvent and ensure better health for their children. The first thing that crossed her mind was setting up a business on handcrafted quilts, and so she began training women on the skill.
Wrapping up her day's work, she would sit with village children who did not go to school, to teach them basic lessons. Under the dimming light of a lantern, she said, "I also studied with them."
But she had to move out of Naogaon and to many districts across the country whenever her husband, who was a police officer, got transferred.
After a long hiatus, she went back to Naogaon in 2010. By that time her husband had retired and their two children – a daughter and a son – had settled abroad with their own families.
This time she committed to serving the community in her hometown.
She had already been running a shelter home there, and now she started thinking of a source of income to sustain the charitable work.
"I knew I cooked well and so decided to use my culinary expertise to set up a restaurant. Everyone, including my family and friends, said it was not a good idea. That I would not find customers in a small town like Naogaon."
Taslima took the challenge eight years ago when her son came home and encouraged her in the pursuit.
Within a short time she got a huge response, and people from nearby upazilas poured into her 1,600 sq feet eatery, "Addai Coffee" every day to taste the delicacies prepared by Taslima and her trained team of cooks and helpers.
She told The Business Standard that all her employees were either female college students or women who had been abandoned by their husbands.
"They are often considered a burden on their families, and financial independence enables them to gain freedom and self-esteem," said 66-year-old Taslima.
The income from the restaurant is good enough to meet its operational expenditure and mitigate the cost of the shelter home. As many as 12-14 women live there. The home also supports about 25-30 women who have a place to live but lack the financial means to buy food, clothes, medicines and other necessities.
"I do not have any staff to maintain the shelter home. We are a big family here and we take care of each other," Taslima said.
About her future plan, she said, "Helpless women will get shelter at the shelter home even after I die. That is why I am going to donate the land on which the shelter home has been built for the cause."
Taslima, however, is still considering the issue of financial sustainability. "An organisation may be formed to make grounds for women's employment and its income may support the shelter home…. Banks may come forward to help.
"These are just bits and pieces of my thoughts."